The Flock’s pitch is simple. And it’s simple for a reason – developers Vogelsap are aiming to create a refreshingly clean and simple game. Up to five players play as gruesome, slavering monsters, each attempting to maintain control of a level’s ball of magical light. Whoever has the light transforms into a different, far chummier form, while the rest do their best to kill her, and take over the role. Points are awarded. Someone wins.
And here’s what’s key: it’s enough. And it works extremely well. The elaborate ruined alien city arena in which we played was deliberately dimly lit, a dusky, creepy site of former majesty, in which collapsed constructions and ancient statues provide a huge playground in which to play an extremely tricky game of hide-and-seek. Tricky because the person hiding emits a bloody great beam of light in the darkness.
As a monster, you lollop low to the ground, bounding along with guttural growls from your greedy maw, leaping up the sides of buildings, and attempting to kill everything you see. The movement is extremely satisfying, feeling heavy and powerful, making attacks feel very dangerous. But you’re in extreme danger from ol’ Lighty, as if the beam is shone directly at you, you’ll die. And since you can’t help but growl and grumble, and along with some very clever musical stings, your prey is going to get some good warnings you’re coming. However, stand still and you’ll instantly petrify, invincible to the light. Move and you’re vulnerable again. Although, in a level riddled with creepy statues, and with your ability to drop decoys, you can also hope to trick your foe into wandering too near, then make a deathly lunge.
As the light carrier, your movement significantly changes. You can still sprint, but you’re no longer nearly as agile. And you’ve got lots to worry about. As well as up to four others attempting to kill you (and ganging up without communication as monsters can be very rewarding), you also need to maintain the light. Which will die away if you don’t keep moving. That and there are tasks for you to complete, strange technologies at which you should shine the beam to score more points, but making yourself extremely vulnerable.
As we played a couple of rounds, the roles switched back and forth often, holding onto the light being something that requires a lot of skill, and with the odds against you. As a monster, things are simpler – your goals are survival and stealing the light.
And that’s it. And that’s enough. There isn’t a plan to create a million other game modes, or other monster types, or to have more than three arenas at launch. Which at first, in a world of TF2s and the like, feels like it should be an issue. But stop, think, why? Not all games are intended to become lifestyles, vocations. Some are meant to be moments. The Flock feels like it’ll be some moments, and some properly fun ones. There’s definitely room for developing tactics, getting smarter, playing better. But it’s also extremely pick-up-able. As someone who feels genuine angst before joining in a multiplayer FPS, in case my ineptitude ruins it for everyone else, in case I do so embarrassingly badly that I’m pushed down in the playground after, something like The Flock has even greater appeal. The minimalism also means there’s no min-maxing madness, no hat-based confusion.
Slick movement, a really nicely fast pace – especially switching between roles – and splendid atmosphere (the musical cues are really something), are just as important. It may not offer the everlasting appeal of other multiplayer battles, but sometimes a moment is enough. We shall see later this year.